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Barbie was one of the most talked-about movies of the first half of 2023 on social media. The film is a perfect storm of nostalgia, ridiculousness, filmmaking and marketing savvy, and Margot Robbie’s star power. Barbie feels like a success already, and it’s not officially released in North American theaters until July 21, 2023.
Anticipating Barbie‘s success is Mattel. Specifically, Mattel Films (which was formed in 2018) is putting the pieces into place to develop multiple movies based on their wide array of toys and associated properties. A new live-action Masters of the Universe movie seems to be the closest to production after Barbie, but there is also a “gritty” Hot Wheels movie from J.J. Abrams and a “surrealistic” Barney movie produced by Daniel Kaluuya on the way. And according to a recent article from The New Yorker, that’s just the tip of the expansive Mattel Films iceberg.
While that all sounds fun and great, horror fans are waiting for the inevitable announcement of Mattel’s first horror movie. Blumhouse was once attached to a movie inspired by the Magic 8 Ball, but Blumhouse separated from the project and the future of the Magic 8 Ball movie is hazy. So what other toys could Mattel turn into horror films?
Realistically, Mattel will likely never make anything too scary. Robbie Brenner, the executive producer of Mattel Films, has stated that they will not make anything that “feels violent, or that is alienating to families.” They also won’t make R-rated movies, but remember, PG-13 horror movies can be amazing and frightening too. Also, PG-13 horror can be good without being too violent or distasteful for family viewing. With all that in mind, here are a few of the Mattel toys that would make excellent horror films.
10 Toys Mattel Should Base Horror Movies On
Chatty Cathy is an obvious choice for a horror movie. For one thing, the talking doll was extremely popular in the 1960s, and it remains a well-known toy even today. Also, it inspired one of the creepiest episodes of The Twilight Zone, the 1963 episode “Living Doll,” which in turn partially inspired the creation of horror’s greatest killer doll, Chucky. A Chatty Cathy horror movie could easily be made as a murderous living doll that echoes ideas seen in the Chucky franchise, Dolly Dearest (1991), or even M3GAN (2023), or it could be more of a “possessed doll” movie like the Annabelle films. A movie based on Chatty Cathy is reported to be in the works, though substantial information about it is non-existent at this time.
What’s Her Face
What’s Her Face was a line of fashion dolls that came with faces that were completely absent of all facial features. The idea was that you could use markers or stamps to draw and redraw whatever face you wanted (they were also bald so you could change their hair). The first style of horror movie that springs to mind for What’s Her Face is something like Eyes Without a Face (1960) which is heavy on drama and psychological horror. However, What’s Her Face could also lead to some amazing body horror in the vein of American Mary (2012), particularly the woman in that film who wants to be surgically altered to resemble a doll. Or what about a movie about someone whose addiction to plastic surgery has rendered their face incapable of being able to sustain any face for an extended period of time? There are a lot of possibilities here.
The Upsy Downsy toys might not be remembered by many people these days, but the colorful characters could be twisted into a trippy style of horror film. Some of the toy characters live their lives right side up, but others spend their days upside down. An Upsy Downsy movie could be like Stranger Things, but much stranger (and more colorful). The movie could also be like Coraline (2009) in which the “normal” characters discover a separate world that is much like their own, but it’s “upside down” in a lot of ways, both literally and figuratively.
Strange Change Machine
If Mattel Films wants a sci-fi monster movie or an action horror movie, the Strange Change Machine is perfect. They toy uses heat to transform plastic squares into various dinosaurs, monsters, and other creatures. The creatures can then be heated and formed back into squares with a crank that squishes them and brands them with the Mattel logo. The images and text on the toy’s box reference the 1960 film The Lost World (even though it does not appear to be a licensed toy), so a movie about science gone wrong with a machine meant to study prehistoric creatures but instead unleashes them upon the world would be an easy story to adapt. Yes, that’s essentially the plot of the Jurassic Park franchise, but they could change it enough to make it work. Also, considering the real-life safety concerns about the extreme heat caused by the Strange Change Machine toy, ending the movie with the machine exploding and burning everything down would be ideal.
See ‘n Say
Coming up with a genre for a See ‘n Say horror movie is easy; make it a possession film, but the possessions happen on a massive scale. Children of every generation since the 1960s have experienced the See ‘n Say. The toys are ubiquitous. What if the See ‘n Says starting whispering though? What if they started secretly telling children to do awful, horrible things. It starts small with a bit of rebellious behavior, but by the time adults realize what is happening, every child has a See ‘n Say, and they are all possessed by its evil influence. It’d be like Children of the Damned (1964) meets Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982).
Monster High is already a toy brand with a strong multimedia presence. There are books, video games, animated movies, and even a live-action film. But, with the direction Mattel Films wants to go with tones that will attract both young and adult audiences, maybe it’s time for a more mature Monster High movie. Not “mature” like it’s for adults only, but something that is aimed at an older audience that is still accessible (and interesting) to teens. It should lean into its gothic aesthetic, channeling movies like the earlier Universal Monsters and Hammer’s monster films from the 1950s and 1960s, but with modern sensibilities. The film could be similar in tone to the Wednesday series starring Jenna Ortega, but make the story more of a Mario-Bava-style gothic horror like Black Sunday (1960).
With Thingmaker, you could make all sorts of plastic creations from bugs to body parts to shrunken heads and more. The “Creepy Crawlers” version of the Thingmaker is probably the most well-known, especially after the brand was revived by Toymax in the 1990s. For a film, Mattel could stick to the creepy crawler theme and make a movie about a mad scientist who creates various new types of bugs and unleashes them on a city for some nefarious purpose. It would be an infestation movie along the lines of Arachnophobia (1990), the “They’re Creeping Up on You” segment of Creepshow (1982), or, if they’re feeling daring, Centipede Horror (1982).
Right now, the timing is perfect for a horror/thriller based on Computer Warriors. The story involves a computer malfunction that leads to dangerous AI viruses that inhabit everyday objects. With artificial intelligence being such a charged topic in modern society, a movie about AI invading unexpected aspects of our lives could be great and topical. The toys don’t always make complete sense. Like, how is AI going to invade a can of soda or a soccer ball trophy? Regardless, if the movie adapts a light tone and makes it into a horror movie like Maximum Overdrive (1986) where the logic of the situation doesn’t really matter, then Mattel could have a huge hit on their hands. Just please don’t have AI write the script.
My Meebas would be an alien invasion movie. A horrendously cute alien invasion movie. It’s not clear if the My Meebas toys are supposed to be aliens, but they look like little candy-colored alien blobs in the shapes of amoebas. The toy itself is two parts. First, you get a plastic tube with a small screen for a virtual pet game attached to the side. You play the game, raising your “Meeba” so that it grows. When the Meeba in the game gets too big, the top of the tube pops open and you pull out your Meeba stuffed toy that has been hiding inside all along. A horror version of this would look something like Critters (1986) and The Blob (1968, 1988). Tubes mysteriously drop from the sky one night in a small town. Someone figures out that the electronic panels on the tubes can be deciphered which opens the tube and releases a tiny creature. They begin selling the tubes as toys online, but it’s soon discovered that the creatures never stop eating and growing, leading to a worldwide catastrophe of huge, hungry Meebas.
Boglins are creepy little hand puppets shaped like ugly heads with arms. The Boglin puppets themselves are rubbery and rather icky to touch which just adds to their attractiveness as toys. The idea behind them is that they are mischievous rascals who love being bad influences on little kids. They came out amid the tiny creature craze in the 1980s inspired by Gremlins (1984), so a movie similar to that makes complete sense. As great as Gremlins is, giving the movie a darker edge (but still silly) like Ghoulies (1985) could be fun too.